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A400M refuelled in flight for first time

An Airbus Military A400M has received fuel in-flight for the first time, with one of the programme's three development aircraft having achieved the milestone behind a French air force Dassault-Breguet C160 Transall.

"There were no problems for the aircraft," says A400M project pilot Tony Flynn, who describes the first wet contacts as having gone "perfectly" during a trials activity performed from Seville, Spain in late November. The work successfully validated a new set of air-to-air refuelling (AAR) flight control laws referred to as "D6R-P", he adds.

"This is the first time we have had a satisfactory control law for the whole [receiver] task," Flynn says. This follows an extensive rewriting process, which was initiated following early trials performed behind a Vickers VC10 tanker in 2010. "To begin with, things didn't go well," he says. Cockpit video footage of the second dry contact made behind the now-retired Royal Air Force type shows the A400M pitching up and down, before climbing violently towards the tanker's T-tail as the crew abandoned the connection.

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Airbus Military

"We are confident that the flight control law will be acceptable, but will have to test it further to be 100% sure," says Flynn. This process will involve making contacts behind an RAF A330 Voyager tanker/transport from February 2014 at higher altitudes and faster speeds, he adds. Software tweaks will be made if required, before Airbus Military will start the AAR receiver certification process later in the year. Work to also prove the A400M's ability to pass fuel to fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters using under-wing hose and drogue refuelling pods will also be conducted in 2014.

Meanwhile, Airbus Military says it will deliver its third production A400M "before Christmas". Turkish air force aircraft MSN9 is awaiting handover at the airframer's San Pablo final assembly site in Seville.